Author Topic: The Practice of Self Inquiry in the light of Upadesa Saram - M.P. Apr.Jun.2013.  (Read 2706 times)

Subramanian.R

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The author is N.A. Mohan Rao.

A scripture is considered most valuable to us if it serves two purposes.  One, it enlightens us on the nature of ultimate
Reality, and two, it indicates some plausible way of verifying that Reality in our own experience.  Bhagavan Sri Ramana
Maharshi's Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction, in Tamizh Upadesa Undiyar) fulfills these criteria to obvious perfection.
Free from any hyperbole, unlike some of our ancient texts, it speaks in a strictly contemporary tone, appealing to modern
psyche with its consistency of focus and logical rigor.

Upadesa Saram presents the Ultimate Reality as non dual in line with the highest traditions of advaita.  The trinity of God, the
world and the individual are held to possess no separate identities, and are at best seen as passing projections of a single,
transcendent Reality.  The individual can realize this by systematically following a set of disciplines, called Sadhana.  He or she
then find themselves to be non different from that Reality and so it is said to have 'realized' his true Self.  Since he finds this
Self to be non dual, he is no more bound by the former compulsions of dualistic life, inclusive of death.  He is therefore said to
be 'liberated'.

Two Method of Sadhana:

A cursory study of Upadesa Saram reveals two alternative methods for Sadhana.  We may refer to them as 'conventional yoga'
and Self Inquiry.  They are dealt with in verses 1-15 and 16-22 respectively.  The last eight verses (23-30) present an insight
into the nature of Reality or the realized state.

'Conventional Yoga' comprises three stages, namely karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga in that order.  The pranayama
component of Raja Yoga can be taken as an additional option within the ambit of Jnana Yoga.  The three regular yogas are
dealt with in Verses 1-3, 4-7, and 8-15 respectively.  The overlapping role of pranayama in Jnana Yoga is covered in verses
11-14. (Only those who are unable to obtain one pointedness of mind during meditation, and who have no opportunity to
meditate in the immediate presence of a realized Master, need go in for pranyama. Even they are advised to give it up once
the skill is gained in arresting breath.)*

* Day by Day entry 24.12.1945 and 10.5.1946.                           
The Technique of Maha Yoga, N.R. Narayana Iyer.
Self Inquiry (Vichara Sangraham, T.M.P.  Mahadevan.

The method of Self  Inquiry is summed up in its essence in Verses 16-20. Some further elaboration is provided in Verses 21-22.
The present essay is an expansion on ideas presented in these verses with due attention paid to Sri Bhagavan's teachings
on numerous other occasions.  Supplementary information from other sources is appended wherever appropriate.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Beloved Abstract

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    • David Ford Art
can the truth of who we really are be practiced ?
ha ha ha ..... no
all practices are the minds way of avoiding the truth of who we really are
simply stop , if only for a moment , and experience directly what is unchanged by any practice or any lack of practice
 :)
simply stop telling the story of the self and see who you are without it

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

Opting for Self Inquiry for one's Sadhana:

If a seeker is to choose Self Inquiry as his settled method of Sadhana, he has to examine his suitability in the light of two questions:
One, whether he is seriously motivated to pursue Self Inquiry, and Two, having chosen it tentatively, whether he is able to adhere
to its practice and gain confidence over a reasonable period of time. (Day by Day entry dated 18.07.1946). 

If the seeker finds a natural aptitude for Self Inquiry and finds no great problem in its practice, it is inferred that he had fulfilled
the necessary prerequisites in his past lives / or in the present one.  (ibid, entry dated 18.11.1946).  It is in respect of such a
seeker that it is said that Self Inquiry needs no prerequisites.  The seeker than can bank on Sri Bhagavan assurance that Self
Inquiry involves no secret technique (upadesa) (ibid., entry dated 08.10.1946)   and go ahead with his practice with the help of information from published  literature and through personal exchange. (For a preliminary insight into the method, vide Who am I?
recorded by M. Sivapraksam Pillai.  A summary view of the underlying philosophy may be gleaned from Gems From Bhagavan
by Devaraja Mudaliar.  For a comprehensive treatment of the subject, see BE AS YOU ARE ed. David Godman.)

If on the other hand, one or both of the aforesaid conditions are not met, the seeker will have to start at an appropriate stage
in 'conventional yoga' (consisting of three classical yogas).  Obviously, after having progressed with it for sometime, he can still
exercise his option to get into Self Inquiry if he so wishes, but the subject to the self same conditions.  Otherwise, he can stick
to the conventional yoga to the end without any sense of loss or regret. 

It is noteworthy here that as Sri Bhagavan points out Self Inquiry is the final gate way everyone has to pass through before
Realization, irrespective of his earlier practices.  A seeker who follows conventional yoga will also therefore pass through a phase
of Self Inquiry just prior to Realization.  It is as though the Yoga practices preceding the Self Inquiry build up an  avalanche of
force behind the query 'Who am I?' that renders the fructification of Self Inquiry to be very quick.  Since the seeker may not have
deliberately planned for this phase, it will seem to him as if coventional yoga is altogether separate from Self Inquiry.

cointd.,

Arunachala Siva.                         

Subramanian.R

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continues....

Upadesa Saram presents a single sequential sadhana, of which 'conventional yoga and Self Inquiry are successive stages. 
A seeker can start at one or other stages depending on his aptitude and preparedness. If he chooses conventional sadhana,
he has further option of either switching to Self Inquiry after some time, or else continuing the conventional method with
prospect of entering Self Inquiry almost involuntarily towards the end.

Requirement of a Guru.

Having a Self realized Master for one's Guru is a rare good fortune available only to a few.  This is because a Guru does not
appear to one till one is mature enough to follow the Guru's instructions in letter and spirit.  The absence of a Guru is however
no disqualification for starting one's sadhana, and a seeker can always trust his inner Guru, namely the Self, for counsel and guidance
till he finds his destined Guru.  It is true that such a counsel can sometimes be 'misread', but in the end it all works out to the
seeker's advantage, since faith is placed in the Self can never be in vain.

An added help at this stage is to accept Sri Bhagavan or some other realized Master (bodily alive or departed) inwardly as one's
notional Guru.  For one thing, it is clear to repose faith in a 'tangible' Guru that in an  intangible Self, even though both are identical.
When unique experiences start descending on the seeker in course of sadhana, this prior acceptance of a human Guru mas an
over-reaching authority over his sadhana helps keep his ego from becoming puffed up with misplaced self importance.  One's
whole sadhana must be built up on the foundation of a constant inward submission to the Sadguru and unflinching faith in his
guidance from within and without at all times. (From the seeker's point of view, faith begets Grace.  Saibaba, the famous saint of
Shirdi has likened the Guru's grace to copious rainfall, and a seeker without faith,  to a pot turned upside down in the rain.  The
pot collects no water, even though, it receives bountiful rains of water all over.).

continued....

Arunachala Siva.                             

Subramanian.R

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A correction:  The article appears in Mountain Path, Apr.-June 2008 and not in 2013.   

continues......

Getting into the Groove of Self Inquiry:

Self Inquiry consists in withdrawing the mind from its preoccupation with the world, and turning it inwards, to delve into its
own nature, (Verse 16).  These two steps generally goes by the names of Vairagya and Abhyasa respectively.  Of these,
the withdrawal of the mind from its outward focus is by far the most challenging, and more or less determines the success
of inquiry.  (Day by Day entry dated 18.7.1946). 

In this electronic age, the average person's life has become so complex that his mind finds not a moment's respite from
its engagement with the world.  If the mind, so intensely drugged into worldliness, is to be reined in for the purpose of
inquiry, mere will power alone cannot suffice. As the very least, the person has to circumscribe his goals in the material
world, and commit himself to progressive non attachment  in his day to day life.  (Desire for something that is absent and
fear of losing something that is present are the principal signs of our attachment to the world).
Thereby, his mundane life becomes synchronized with his sadhana and ceases to create insurmountable obstacles to
Self Inquiry.

Core Principle of Self Inquiry:

When the mind, divested of all thoughts about the objective world, inquires into its own nature steadily, over a period of
time, it will be found that there is no mind at all (Verse 17).  In this place arises Pure Consciousness that is non dual (Verse 20).

The mind is nothing but thoughts.  But all thoughts spring from the 'I'-thought and are therefore identical with it.  The mind is
therefore nothing but the 'I'- thought (Verse 18).  So, if one investigates what is mind, he must ask himself 'Who am I?' or
'Where does the I thought arise from? (Verse 19).   The mind then begins to identify itself with the 'I'-consciousness or 'I-feeling
within. 

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.                         

Subramanian.R

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continues....

In practice, the inwardness of the mind so obtained, is easily disturbed by worldly thoughts.  However, as and when a thought
arises, one should immediately pose the question, 'To whom is this thought?' The answer comes, 'To me'.  This should prompt
the question, 'Who am I?', and which brings the mind back to the 'I-consciousness'.  This is the real nature of Self Inquiry or
Self attention.  When this is practiced steadily, one will find oneself going deeper and deeper into one's own self, till ultimately
the real Self stands revealed. (Sat Darsana Bhashya, Kapali Sastri, p ii-iv)

The question 'Who am I?' is thus not meant to be recited as a Japa.  Nor is it meant to obtain a verbal answer.  Consider, for instance,
a father searching for his missing son in a carnival of crowd.  He should not keep repeating within himself 'Where is my son?'
Instead, his eyes would keep darting from place to place and person to person, eager to find the form of his son.  In  a somewhat
similar fashion, the inquiry 'Who am I?' consists in an active search within oneself (i.e. within the ego or the false I) for finding
the true "I" that never fades back into the oblivion of thoughts.           

Steps to the Practice of Self Inquiry:

Practice of Self Inquiry initially starts sitting in an asana (yoga posture or even sukasana) behind closed doors, or in some other
agreeable location like a temple, or an Ashram. We may term this 'meditational inquiry', as it is closely resembles conventional
meditation in its exterior aspects.  In course of time, the inquiry extends to other periods of the waking state, wherein one is
engaged in physical or mental activity.  For our purpose here, we shall designate this as "concurrent inquiry" .  The two steps
together should, ideally speaking, occupy the entire waking life of the seeker.  (Inferred from Who am I? # 15 and Day by
Day, entries dated 2.1.1946 and 21.7.1946).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.           

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

Meditational Inquiry:

Meditational Inquiry is practiced sitting in an asana, holding the head, neck and spine erect in a straight line.  The sadhaka
may wash his limbs before the start, so as to freshen himself up a bit.  Once seated, he must remember his Guru and offer
prostration inwardly. 

The purpose of asana is many fold. Firstly, it helps the body in perfect poise with minimum expenditure of energy and attention.
The body consciousness is thus almost instantly overcome, leaving the mind free to attend to the inward quest.  Secondly,
by minimizing he contact of the body with the surroundings, the asana facilitates easy dissipation of body heat.  And thirdly,
it allows for free expansion of spine and lungs during pranayama (if used).  All these factors together help the sadhaka to
maintain the posture for prolonged periods without strain. 

The sadhaka may initially start with one meditation session a day, unless he happens to be more determined.  Early morning
is considered the best period since the mind is very fresh then.  Some may find the time of dusk better suited to their temperament
and situation in life.  Another alternative is late evenings, an hour or so after dinner.  When, through practice, some proficiency
is gained in inquiry, one may extend the number of sessions to two or three a day, so that inquiry has its impact on the rest of
the day's proceedings.  The total duration of all the sessions put together could be about one or two hours.  (A Search in
Secret India, Paul Brunton). 

Meditational inquiry counts as the cutting edge of sadhaka, as the first rendezvous with the Self is expected to occur in it.
This occurs in the form of nirvikalpa samadhi, during which the sadhaka loses outward consciousness.  In such a situation,
there could be a risk of the body falling and incurring injury.  The use of a regular asana precludes this by holding the body
steady even in the unconscious state.  The asanas recommended are padmasana, sukhasana, siddhasana, and swastikasana.
(Concentration and Meditation, Swami Sivananda, Divine Life Society, 1964).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.             
   

Subramanian.R

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continues.....

The core of the practice has already been dealt with.  The idea of the Self as given in Verse 21 must form the backdrop to
inquiry.  The effort should be to keep the mind steady in its source in the manner of a flicker free lamp in the interior of a God's
shrine.  Initially, this can be very frustrating, as the mind is not used to staying within.  The best remedy is perseverance.  (See
Bhagavad Gita 6.34-35 and Day by Day with Bhagavan, entry dated 18.07.1946.).  The distractions become less and less of a
bother over a period of some months or a few years.  (It is the common experience of sadhakas that their faith in sadhana is
sustained by the inflow of Grace in unexpected ways from time to time.  This is particularly helpful in the initial period when
the progress is slow. 

Practice of Concurrent Inquiry:

During the day, we go through many activities which require little or no attention from us -- e.g, walking, bathing, eating food,
waiting for someone, going to sleep, etc., Such occasions may be conveniently utilized for inquiry, thereby raising the number of
hours of daily practice substantially.  This CONCURRENT INQUIRY, can be fruitfully attempted only after making some headway
with MEDITATIONAL INQUIRY. (A practical way to reduce the difficulty is to try to fill the time slots meant for concurrent inquiry first
with mental japa of a chosen mantra.  When the japa is well established, the fickleness of the mind is arrested, and then it will be
relatively easily to substitute he Japa with Self-attention. ).

When a foothold has been gained in concurrent inquiry in the above manner, the practice can be extended to other periods
wherein the mind is actively engaged -- e.g. reading, writing, talking, shopping, cooking etc., It may at first seem impossible to
combine inquiry with such activities but Sri Bhagavan assures us to the contrary.  (A Search in Secret India pp. 157, 160). 

Village women, when they fetch water from outside, walk home carrying the water pots on their heads even without holding
them, even while conversing themselves.  Though their minds are engaged elsewhere, their subconscious attention never wavers
from the water pots.  In the same way, it is possible to carry on with Self attention, while attending to worldly chores.

Concurrent inquiry ensures the commitment of the total personality of the seeker to his goal of Self Realization. It thereby greatly
enhances the efficacy of meditatational  inquiry, which forms the inner core of practice.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   
         
           

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continues....

Obstacles to Sadhana:

Obstacles of various types may be faced.  Distracting thoughts of the world, are naturally the foremost 'obstacle', and the
essence of Sadhana consists in overcoming them. In this, the attitude of he seeker should not be one of struggle or coercion,
but one of shifting his attention to the source of "I".  His effort should be as delicate as that of the proverbial princess in freeing
her wafer thin upper garment (duppata) caught by thorny bushes while strolling in the garden. 

Sadhana should not be expected to proceed evenly at all times.  There are bound to be ups and downs due to the constant flux
of the gunas -- sattva, rajas and tamas.  The seeker is advised to make he best use of his time when Sattva guna is in the
ascendant.  At other times, he should be content with moderate or little progress.  As time passes, the Sattva guna will
begin to preponderate, and this will be reflected in a noticeable decline in distracting thoughts.  (Inferred from Talks # 91 and
# 618).

When distractions seem particularly powerful, it might help rehearse the principles of 'Reality-unreality- discrimination (nitya-
anitya-viveka) inwardly in the mind.  The distracting thoughts would then seem not worthy of attention and are easily shed.         

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.

Subramanian.R

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continues......

During meditational enquiry, the seeker may have a variety of experiences like shedding tears, horripilation, photisms,
twitching, numbness of the body, pain in body parts, titillation, rapture, visions (of strange scenes, persons and gods),
weakness, drowsiness, sounds, a void, fear etc.,  (An interesting account of various types of visions and experiences met
with in meditation, and of other obstacles faced, can be found in Concentration and Meditation, Swami Sivananda.).

These experiences are indicative of the reaction of he prana and the mind against the efforts at controlling  them.  They
differ from sadhaka to sadhaka , and none of them last in the long run.  The seeker should pay no heed to them, and instead
overcome them by steadfast inquiry, i.e. by asking, 'To whom has this experience come?' and following up the answer 'To me'
with 'Who am I?'.  The one experience that the sadhaka must avoid is falling unconscious or asleep. When he succeeds in taking
his attention off the world, he must not simultaneously lose consciousness of himself.

Physical obstacles like external sounds, hostile insects, irksome health, lack of privacy, opposition from the family members,
inadequate free time, inability to adhere to meditation schedules, irregularity in sadhana, etc., have to be tackled by the
seeker in the manner best suited to his capacity. If his aspiration is genuine and his faith strong, solutions are bound to appear
due to the Guru's Grace.  (For a brief, classical treatment of the obstacles, see entry dated 25.4.1946 in Day by Day).

Progress in Self inquiry:

When the seeker senses that he is making some progress, he must be extremely vigilant against becoming overconfident.
Else, his ego can revert to its old ways, causing setbacks to his sadhana. Reflection on the principles of discrimination (viveka),
the reading of spiritual books, the company of saints and sages, and surrender to the Guru (within) can be relied on for
support when inquiry is seriously threatened or hampered by Maya (delusion).

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.   
 
           

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continues.....

When, eventually, the sadhaka finds himself able to contact the 'I-consciousness', with some ease, he sees new possibilities
for the mind control.  Normally the most persistent form of distraction concerns some 'fruit of action'. The seeker realizes that
the purpose of all action is only to return the mind, at the end of action, to its state of repose in itself, and that he could as well
accomplish this by not allowing the mind to go after action in the first place.  The fruit of action, as well as action itself, then
ceases to be of consequence, and distraction ceases.  Karma Yoga thus gets sublimated in Self Enquiry.

Towards the latter stages of sadhana, distractions tend to turn sattvic, relating to issues such as service to humanity,
spiritual theorizing, etc.,  Simultaneously, the awareness  grows in the seeker that whatever distracting thought arises,
'it arises out of ME, has no purpose other than ME, is nothing but a transformation of ME, and has not being apart from ME.'
The thought becomes identified with the 'I"-Consciousness almost instantly the seeker's constant "visits", the 'I'-
Consciousness becomes the equivalent of a temple for him, and thus stands sublimated in Self Enquiry.

as enquiry progresses further, the seeker finds himself, identified with the 'I'-consciousness almost throughout the waking
state. From this invariant center, which is waking ego, he witnesses the body and worldly phenomena as if they are pictures
projected on the 'screen' of that ego.  With further deepening of enquiry, the ego itself and all that it sees appear as a mere
projection on the screen of the Absolute Self (Day by Day entry dated 17.10.1946.) even as the ego goes through its cycle
of waking, dream, and deep sleep states.

conclusion:

Upadesa Saram combines the essence of discrimination, dispassion, devotion, enquiry and self Knowledge. Its habitual
recitation helps the mind to stay turned to Self Inquiry, and provides all round protection against the onslaught of Maya.
With Sadhana conducted under the aegis, the mind is enabled to rise to the threshold of cosmic consciousness, and
qualify for eventual transcendence.  Beyond, there is only Light, and no seeking.

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.